In 1980s France, Luc Besson Ensures that the Executions will be Televised



In corporately sterile mid-1980s France, someone has taken to killing TV hosts.  In the killer’s defense, the ubiquitous talking heads on the tube are awfully irritating.  Do any television networks in the world of Kamikazeactually show shows?  Or is it just studio-bound non-personalities talking up programming that never seems to materialize…?  

And so it’s come to pass that someone out in TV land (a.k.a. struggling socialist France of that time) has finally snapped.  His method is an ingenious one that works from the seclusion of his own apartment and leaves no fingerprints.  But does he have to be so gross about it?  A deceptively Solomon Grundy-esque Michel Galabru plays the dejected Albert, an unrecognized tech genius who is using a large microwave-powered death ray pointed at his own television.  It’s entirely his own invention, and in his fraying mental state, he opens fire most arbitrarily.  While on the air announcing whatever programming is coming up next, presenters’ internal organs suddenly explode without warning.  Obviously, this particular programming must be cancelled, and quickly.

Co-written and produced by Luc Besson during his fevered rise to filmmaking prominence, Kamikaze exists very much under the umbrella of his name-driven imprimatur.  As told by director Didier Grousset on a twenty-six-minute video interview supplement, Besson himself spearheaded this project into existence, and also “appointed” Grousset, previously his first assistant director, to helm it.  

Grousset approaches Kamikaze’s far-out premise less as the science fiction which it’s more or less touted as, and more as procédure policière.  In so doing, the film taps into the country’s strong history with the procedural form, as Richard Bohringer’s obsessed protagonist must recruit at least fifty of the best scientists and technicians from around the globe to foil the deranged Albert.  (Who embodies the film’s title in his bizarre adoption of a Japanese kamikaze, complete with garish makeup and wardrobe).  He’s a huge dejected crank, this one.

I ran hot and cold on Kamikaze while watching it for the first time, in that reverse order.  At only ninety minutes in length, I found the first half was particularly hard to get into.  Once they figured out that the murderer was using the studio’s cameras to transmit his death beam, I became restless with it.  I found myself wondering why, instead of knowingly risking the lives of more presenters, why didn’t they just use mirrors or something.  By the second half, however, I found myself entirely on its unusual frequency.  The glaring lack of promised overt science fiction was preempted by the plot’s increasingly tense crime conundrum.  It’s strongly suspected that subsequent viewings of Kamikaze will only enhance this off-center semi-stylized thriller.

Film historian Dr. Eddy Von Mueller provides an excellent, excellent commentary track, discussing most every point of interest that Kamikaze wields.  The track flows with a pacing deliberate yet proper as to not abandon the film’s accompanying visuals.  Speaking of the visuals, the transfer on KL Studio Classics’ Blu-ray appears entirely of its time, as though it’s freshly dropped in from 1986.  The electronic score by Besson regular Éric Serra really pops on the soundtrack, as do the ambient hums and occasional zapping sound effects.  It is a very engrossing presentation of this rare film which appears to never have been available on DVD or Blu-ray in North America until now.  To commemorate this, KL’s packaging includes an ever-popular cardboard slipcover, displaying the film’s striking poster art.

But that’s not all…!  KL comes through with additional substantial bonus features, making this disc an absolute must-own for Besson fans.  Besides the previously mentioned video interview with Grousset (Au coeur du cinéma; 25:37), we also get the vintage making-of film Objectif Kamikaze: Documentary (34:04)- a piece that’s apparently so rare it’s not currently found on IMDb or Letterboxd.  Finally, there’s the theatrical trailer, accompanied by other trailers of other KL related releases.  Kamikaze is presented in its original French language with optional English subtitles.

While Luc Besson is not the creative factory manager he once was (I’ve tried and failed to appreciate most of his films), his handoff of his Kamikaze concept to his underling Grousset most certainly made for a most interesting finished product.  In so doing, Besson helped launch Grousset’s directorial career, and opened the project to what is quite likely a very different realization than if he’d helmed it himself.  (Instead, he made Subway).  As it stands, Kamikaze, while never the box office ratings bonanza its makers hoped, picks up as something worth tuning into.